Markkula Center of Applied Ethics

The Impact of Sexually-Explicit Materials and Pornography

In Appendix 10, we have included some of the many materials we've been sent on the impact of exposure to sexually-explicit and pornographic images. We have included one piece from Current Psychology, one from Maclean's Magazine, and one from the National Coalition Against Pornography. In evaluating any such materials, Dr. Eleanor Willemsen, chair of Santa Clara's Psychology Department pointed out the necessity to distinguish between essay comments by experienced clinicians who encounter pornography-related problems in clients and empirical studies that attempt to look at causal links. (Willemsen noted, "There are statistical ways to do this without experimentally exposing subjects to pornography they are not otherwise seeing"). The piece from Current Psychology reviews much of the empirical literature and captures well the current state of the debate. The conclusions to be drawn from this current discussion are tentative. The data do not seem to support a claim that pornography is the major cause of rape and child abuse, but they do show some relationship between these behaviors and the viewing of pornography.

Dr. Willemsen noted, "It is clear that there is a correlation between sex crimes and pornographic exposure. Most sex offenders--especially pedophiles--consume much more pornography than the average person. This is not cause-effect demonstration, however. Perhaps those predisposed to exploit others sexually are also disposed to respond sexually to pornography more than most and thus to seek it." So, it seems safest for us to say that experienced clinicians have expressed concern about the harmful effects of pornography, rather than that psychological evidence has demonstrated conclusively that pornography is the cause of sex crimes and other harmful effects.

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